Blog Archive

28 July 2013

The Tenkara Cast

In all fly fishing circles most guides will stress that it's the cast that counts. After all, the fly cast defines the technique and the aesthetic that makes fly fishing such an attractive leisure activity. In tenkara and other fixed line fly fishing traditions, a fly first presentation defines one of the key principles that an angler must learn when they pick up a tenkara rod. The ability to present your fly with accuracy requires practise, something the Japanese tenkara anglers do until they can cast to small bowls of water at varying distances.

Although tenkara does not use a heavy fly line the angler must move the line with sufficient stroke length, power and pause of the rod to produce a tight loop while canting the cast forward and toward the water. I suggest that the tenkara cast following the principles laid down by Bill and Jay Gammel in their seminal book The Essentials of Fly Casting:

The Tenkara Cast - Philip Sheridan
The Tenkara Cast
Your casting style may differ from that of another individual however your cast must apply the essential principles that make up the substance of the cast.

When starting out try to relax your shoulder, keep your upper arm down rather than held forward. Grip the rod handle with your index finger pointing forward, not too firm, just right as they say. Allow a slight lift of the upper arm, followed by the forearm and finish with a slight cant of the wrist while you pause momentarily on the back stroke. Then bring the rod forward through both horizontal and vertical translation with a final cant forward to deliver your cast and present your fly on target. As your casting develops you can begin to explore the nuances of grip and how they affect the cast.

Tenkara Casting - Philip Sheridan
The Tenkara Cast - Philip Sheridan
It will take a little practise in your garden or a local park to get the short stroke and succinct stops necessary to create consistent loops but time taken to gain this skill will take your presentation of the fly to another level. Most importantly, try to relax. As one of my martial arts teachers would say, 'relax completely but don't slump like a sack of potatoes'. Not an easy task after a tough day at work I know. Take time to ease into things and don't become too frustrated if your first few casts end in a tangle or a heap.

Pay attention to the alignment of your hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder, to develop accurate repeatable straight casts. Once you can cast tight loops in a straight line you can begin to play with the loop size and its orientation to present the fly as you wish. Work on your fly first presentation with just the fly and tippet landing on the water. To do so with finesse you'll need to dampen or soften the cast with a slight lift of rod tip as the line extends. Watch the short film below carefully to see how Masami Sakakibara controls his casts.

Masami Sakakibara known as Tenkara no Oni, has practised his cast over and over to perfection for many years. The image below, by kind permission of Masami Sakakibara, shows him having his cast analysed in a laboratory.

Masami Sakakibara - Tenkara Cast Analyse
Image by kind permission Masami Sakakibara
Practise the cast at various angles to the horizontal to enable presentations under tree branches and other low level obstructions. I find that if I aim toward specific targets then my cast improves no end. It will help develop the focused approach one needs on the boulder strewn rivers where tenkara finds its home.

Remember to practise the cast from various stances too. Try kneeling, from a crouch, or sat on the ground to develop the flexibility of mind and body to cast from any angle and location. Use your non-dominant hand too, it won't take long before you become adept with both. With some deliberate and dedicated work on your cast you will open up a whole range of fishing opportunities that you may have passed up had you not practised these skills.

Masami Sakakibara Seated Tenkara Cast
Image by kind persmission Masami Sakakibara
People ask why they should practise their cast or other angling skills for that matter, they catch fish just fine. I can only add as an outdoorsman, angler and practitioner of the martial arts over 30 years that practise always pays dividends in the long run. As we become more skillful in our practise we can bring our creativity and imagination to bare upon what we originally did as a matter of routine.

In time we reach a point beyond competency where we find ourselves at the start of the journey toward mastery. Another master fly caster, Joan Wulff, oft quoted from her book, Fly Casting Techniques, said:
"If you don't know where the fish lie but can cast well enough to cover all of the water with finesse, you are likely to solve the mystery and catch fish. If you know where they lie but can neither reach them nor present the fly naturally, you are not even in the game."
Get in touch if you'd like some focused tuition on the tenkara cast.

I look forward to seeing you on the river.

Tight lines and happy tenkara.

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